I’m a pretty heavy MMORPG fan, although somehow I’ve never played Everquest (or EQ2). I started in MUDs, moved to Ultima Online, then Asheron’s Call, then a break, then to World of Warcraft.
Any objective observer in the MMORPG space can see that World of Warcraft has been a genre shattering success with around eight million subscribers. Clearly this game has broken beyond the initial MMORPG and fantasy game playing crowd. Since the biggest (non-Korean) MMORPGs were only at a few hundred thousand users this is a big deal.
World of Warcraft has been out for over two years. On January 16th it’s first expansion, the Burning Crusade, will be released. No doubt this will get everyone excited and re-energized about the game for some period of time.
So, in pseudo-case study form, I ask:
You are the Publisher / GM / CEO / Studio Manager / Executive Producer of a MMORPG. Your MMORPG has a little buzz in the hardcore fan community, but no one outside the most 10-20k most rabid game fans have ever heard of it. You have two choices:
- Release on January 30, less then two weeks after the biggest MMORPG in history (by a lot) releases its first expansion.
- Defer your release by sixty to ninty days which results in you losing some revenue, but allows you to make the game better and more polished.
Ok, let’s take what we know about MMORPGs for supporting information:
- MMORPGs consume a lot of time. They are typically monogamous games, meaning people play only one MMORPG actively at one time.
- MMORPGs have high switching costs. If you have played World of Warcraft any length of time and are level 60 (or close), you don’t want to walk away from that. Especially since now you can go to level 70.
- MMORPGs are expensive – often $50 for the game and $10-$20/month for a subscription.
Now, taking that all into account. Let’s take a look at Vanguard (official site). This game has been in development quite a while by some of the original team from Everquest. Original it was going to be published by Microsoft, but subsequently changed publishers to Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) which publishes Everquest I and II and Star Wars Galaxies.
So I follow this market. I remember reading about Vanguard a few times. While writing this post I went back and read some other articles. It looks like World of Warcraft with a little more capabilities for character crafted items and one big “selling point” which is player housing. Fun. So I looked at the screenshots. They don’t look as good as World of Warcraft. Oh and I watched the movies… which focus almost exclusively on flying mounts, which probably seemed innovative and exciting at the time. But, woops, they are in the World of Warcraft expansion too.
This is a big problem for MMORPGs: If you are making a persistent world MMORPG like World of Warcraft, you are going to have to get WoW players to play your game. The first thing they are going to do is go look at your reviews, screenshots, movies, etc. And if they aren’t at least at parity with WoW, what would make you think they would even consider shelling out $50 and a lot of time to try it?
ESPECIALLY WHEN THE WOW EXPANSION JUST SHIPPED.
So since Vanguard doesn’t look as cool as WoW (at least from the screenshots and movies I saw, I’m probably not going to try it. If the WoW expansion sucks (unlikely) I may be motivated to give it a try. It’s possible I buy it and try it so I can blog about it – either as a review of a pseudo-major MMORPG release or as a follow-up to this post. But thinking purely as a player, I would wait. If it got really popular and people were raving about it, I might try it. Otherwise my monogamous persistent world MMORPG relationship will continue with World of Warcraft.
Anyway, this seems like a dumb move. Lecture 2 will be in a month – two weeks after this is out to see how it goes for them.
Oh, one other thing… A lot of user comments out there keep saying this game looks good but it isn’t finished. Blizzard (the maker’s of World of Warcraft) are known for pushing game release dates (a lot) to make sure the game is finished and good. This has made them a lot of fans and is at least part of the reason almost all of their games are spectacular sellers. Shipping a game that competes against them and isn’t ready yet: even dumber idea.
Some user quotes from Gamespot:
Heh, they spent 4.5 years and the largest development budget for an MMO to make a bad WoW clone with Eq2 graphics. Everyone point and laugh at SOE, again.
I am very disappointed in the beta so far. . was thinking about jumping ship from wow to Vanguard. . but not now. . this game is boring in everyway. . good graphics are nice but animations are poor . . and if they are still planning on releasing it at the end of the month then they are making a big mistake. . way too many problems. .
There were, to be honest, a few (not many) positive comments. Mostly from the few people who don’t like WoW or have an overwhelming love for player housing.
Stay tuned for the next round.
You could compare this to when EQ was first released; the only other player out there was UO, and they were careful to release it well after the Renaissance expansion had hit the shelves. Result? They blew UO out of the water with a game that, while graphically superior in many ways, was really nothing more than a different breed of MMO (the birth of leveling). Timing is everything.